Technical Tips for Trouble Free Wireless Networking
Tips on using the Wireless Network for the more experienced IT user.
Tips for choosing a wireless network card or laptop
- Buy a well known name when adding a PC Card or USB wireless device, for example, Belkin, Netgear, Linksys, Cisco, Intel, Centrino
- Well known hardware manufacturers will also be the best choice when buying a laptop. Names like Dell, IBM, Toshiba, HP, Sony etc
- The latest released wireless device types are often the best as they have the better and enhanced capabilities and will mostly be provided with up to date support, device drivers, firmware and trouble shooting facilities
- Unknown names may be cheaper and still work on our network but the driver and software updates can sometimes be difficult to get hold of. The same goes for laptop wireless drivers when the wireless device is built in to the laptop. The laptop manufacturer usually provides the wireless drivers not the device manufacturer. If the laptop manufacturer is not so well known, driver and firmware updates may not be forthcoming
- Don't worry about 802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11n when looking at features.
- Check for wireless certifications on the device your are purchasing.Look for Wi-Fi, CCX, EAP-TTLS, WPA and WPA2 certifications and capabilities of the wireless device
Choice between embedded and after-market wireless adapters
The antenna on your wireless device will determine your strength of signal. Laptops with built-in antenna (usually around the screen) get better signals than laptops with wireless cards added later.
PDAs will usually have the poorest signal due to their size.
Generally, the smaller the device, the worse the reception.
- Turn off any power saving on your wireless card settings and set your card to full power. This stops the wireless device from losing track of the network and the wireless network losing the device
- Always keep your wireless card device drivers up to date. The manufacturers will release new versions quite often as they find problems or make enhancements
- Sometimes manufacturer configuration software will offer a preference when connecting by selecting 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. If confronted with this choice the order for preference is 802.11a, 802.11g. We no longer support 802.11b
- Some wireless adaptor cards prefer a beaconed clear SSID to their configured SSIDs. Some client adapters prefer beaconed SSID over the SSIDs they are configured to use. Conversely, some adapters can associate only with a beaconed SSID.
- Standby mode can prevent some wireless adapter cards from reassociating with access points. If a laptop PC whose wireless adaptor is associated with an MP access point goes into standby (hibernate) mode, the operating system can either freeze or experience a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) when the laptop comes out of standby mode and attempts to reassociate with the access point. To work around this behaviour, disable standby mode on your wireless card. Alternatively, disable and re-enable the wireless adapter after the client emerges from standby mode.
- If a client passes authentication but fails authorization, the client might indicate that authentication has succeeded but the access point nonetheless disassociates from the client. In this case, the wireless adpater card might indicate that the network is unavailable. For example, this situation can occur if the certificate exchange is valid but the requested VLAN or ACL filter is not available.
- Windows7, Vista, MacOSX 10.5 and above, and Linux systems provide software for wireless network configuration. The generic software is often easier to configure and support than third party software.
- When using Windows XP on a recently purchased laptop or new wireless card, manufacturers will provide their own software for configuring the client for wireless networks. In cases like Intel, these can often work better than the Microsoft XP configuration software. Use the manufacturer’s software in preference to the Windows Zero Configuration tools
- Sometimes manufacturers of laptops and wireless cards will also provide the 802.1x supplicant software. This will often work better and be easier to configure than the SecureW2 EAP-TTLS free software.
- Always set the preference in your order of networks, eduroam should be your first choice as it is encrypted.
Installing Windows XP Service Pack 3 is recommended for all wireless clients as it includes several important hotfixes. Also make sure that Wireless Client Update for 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 is installed - 29/1/2007
If you are not prepared to install Service Pack 2, then you must ensure that all wireless clients use Service Pack 1a with the following hotfixes installed:
- KB826942—This is the WPA Hotfix Rollup and is available through Microsoft Update
- KB834669—This corrects an 802.1X client issue which can cause system instability problems in Windows XP. You will need to contact Microsoft for this hotfix.
- When applying Windows XP updates manually, it is wise to look at the CUSTOM option as the EXPRESS option will only apply Critical updates. The CUSTOM option will let you apply wireless software and hardware drivers updates. This also applies if you do updates automatically. Automatic updates will only apply Critical updates and not useful things like driver updates.
- Always download the latest drivers for your wireless adapter card from the supplier.
- If your wireless network adapter driver includes the AEGIS protocol manager for WPA support, we recommend against installing it. Some drivers install this automatically if you run the setup.exe utility to install the driver. We recommend that you update the driver manually using the driver properties in the Network control panel instead of installing the client manager.
- When applying Windows Vista updates manually, it is wise to look at the optional updates also as these are often useful updates that are not applied unless asked for. These can be wireless software and hardware drivers updates.
- In it’s default configuration, Windows Vista does not connect to hidden “non-broadcast” SSIDs. Microsoft has changed this behaviour in both Vista and the latest Windows client update for XP (KB# 917021) as part of an effort to increase security on wireless clients. For more information please check Microsoft’s website: Non-broadcast Wireless Networks with Microsoft Windows
- Windows Vista drivers are relatively new and have not yet reached the maturity level of Windows XP drivers. Recommendation: Use the most recent Vista drivers available from the manufacturer’s website. If that does not resolve the issue you can try and run the Windows XP
- Sometimes after configuring Vista correctly to work with eduroam it still fails. A reset of the wireless netwrok card will usually fix this (disable/enable)
- The best reception will always be as close to the wireless access points as possible.
- The antenna on your wireless device will determine your strength of signal. Laptops with built in antenna (usually around the screen) get better signals than laptops with wireless cards added later
- PDAs will usually have the poorest received signal and will suffer the most from interference due to their size.
Windows vs Laptop manufacturer vs Wireless Card Manufacturer fighting for control
- Windows devices of all windows flavours (Home, Enterprise etc) have software built into windows that allow users to configure wireless. This is what our "HowTo" documents refer to in configuring your laptop to work with Cardiff University wireless network.
- Unfortunately, some wireless card manufactures e.g. Intel, will also sometimes, but not always, provide software to configure and control the wireless card. Software like Intel ProSet.
- Unfortunately again, most large laptop manufactures add to the confusing software picture by adding more software that is supposed to help with the configuration and control of wireless such as Lenovo or IBM connection n manager.
- Adding to the problem is IBM/Lenovo seem to call this software different names depending on the Model. Also IBM/ Lenovo models can have the same model number yet they use different wireless hardware!
Essentially to use the wireless at Cardiff university and most other wireless networks you ONLY need the windows wireless software controlling your wireless card.
There is no standard way of finding out what is controlling the wireless card on a windows box until you physically look. Generally the advice is to remove the software that is provided by the manufacture as there is no guarantee that it be configured to use the type of secure wireless we have at CU eduroam used PEAP -TTLS EAP-TTLS, WPA-Enterprise.
Case in point, the IBM Connection manger has several versions in existence. The different versions add to the confusion as some will do EAP-TTLS and some will not depending on Model/Wireless Hardware and level of update.
Again this will apply to the Intel ProSet. Latest version is very good but older versions may to EAP-TTLS but not the correct inner authentication protocol. ProSet has other problems regarding versions. Not only does it have incremental version differences. It also has differences between the differing chipsets.
Laptop hardware and software also adding to problem
- There is a usually a physical hardware switch to toggle the wireless card on the device on/off
- The is also usually a software switch to toggle the wireless card on and off
Some users may be unaware of these ways the wireless device maybe turned off this and don't know why their wireless is not picking up wireless networks.
- Windows update, may or may not reinstall the manufactures connection managers the machine reverts to the original problem
- By default Wireless hardware (the network card) on laptops will be configured for power saving mode.
This means that when the wireless network connection is not be used the wireless hardware will go into sleep mode. This sometimes confuses wireless users into thinking they have lost their wireless connection when it is their laptop that is to blame. Advice for this is to disable power saving mode for the wireless card. The configuration for this is NOT in the power settings in control panel where you would logically expect it! It is actually in the device configuration of the network card itself and looks completely different depending on the wireless hardware manufacturer and model.
The Advice :
Remove the manufactures connection software, if you can work out what it is!
Do not use the wireless card manufactures software , e.g. Intel ProSet unless you know that it can be used with eduroam. Again, you are going to have to work that out by looking at it.